Boris Johnson refuses to deny Cummings claim he said 'COVID is only killing 80-year-olds'

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Watch: PM refuses to deny claim he said ‘COVID only kills 80-year-olds’

Boris Johnson has refused to deny claims he said "COVID only kills 80-year-olds".

ITV reported that Dominic Cummings, the prime minister's former chief adviser, will claim Johnson made the comment last autumn before the second national lockdown.

Cummings has been giving evidence to MPs on Wednesday about the government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

ITV journalist Robert Peston on Tuesday reported that Cummings will allege that Johnson said "COVID is only killing 80-year-olds" before England's second lockdown began on 5 November.

During Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer put the claim to Johnson, but he refused to deny it.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Wednesday May 26, 2021.
Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday. (PA)
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Wednesday May 26, 2021.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer put the claim to Boris Johnson during Prime Minister's Questions. (PA)

Speaking about Cummings's evidence to the health and science joint committee, Starmer said: “There was clearly a lack of planning, poor decision-making and a lack of transparency, and a prime minister who was absent from the key decisions.

“But another central allegation briefed overnight is that the prime minister delayed the circuit-break over the autumn half term because 'COVID was only killing 80-year-olds'.

"Can I remind the prime minister that over 83,000 people over 80 lost their lives to this virus and that his decision to delay for 40 days from the Sage guidance on 21 September until 31 October will be seen as one of the single biggest failings of the last year."

The Labour leader asked: “Does the prime minister accept that he used the words 'COVID was only killing 80-year-olds', or words to those effect?”

But Johnson refused to answer the question, replying: “Of course this will be a matter for the inquiry to go into. I am absolutely confident that we took the decisions in the best interests of the British people."

In his evidence to MPs on Wednesday, Cummings claimed Johnson wanted to be injected with coronavirus on live television and thought COVID-19 was a “scare story”, calling it the “new swine flu”.

Cummings also launched a blistering attack on Matt Hancock, saying he should have been sacked "15 to 20 times" for lying about the pandemic. A spokesman for the Health Secretary said he "absolutely rejects" the claims.

In addition, Cummings said it was "crackers" that Boris Johnson is prime minister.

In PMQs, Starmer asked Johnson to apologise if he had been “complacent” about the threat of coronavirus.

Dominic Cummings, former Chief Adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, giving evidence to a joint inquiry of the Commons Health and Social Care and Science and Technology Committees on the subject of Coronavirus: lessons learnt. Picture date: Wednesday May 26, 2021.
Dominic Cummings criticised the prime minister's handling of the COVID pandemic. (PA)

Starmer said: “One of the most serious points made this morning is that the prime minister failed to recognise the severity of this virus until it was too late, dismissing it as – quote from this morning – another scare story like the swine flu.

“Does the prime minister recognise that account of his own behaviour and, if so, will he apologise for being so complacent about the threat that this virus posed?”

Johnson replied: “I don’t think anybody could credibly accuse this government of being complacent about the threat that this virus posed at any point.

“We have worked flat out to minimise loss of life, to protect the NHS, while they (Labour) have flip-flopped from one position to another.”

Watch: Cummings says it's 'crackers' that Boris Johnson is prime minister

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